PJM Tokyo, Saturday 22 Sep 2007, 11:30pm PDT:
In any election, even an intra-party election for president of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has ruled Japan for all but 11 months since 1955, every complex set of issues is boiled down to one issue, which is then reduced to sound bites.
Sadly, in the case of US-Japan relations, this process had dragged policy in with it.
Yasua Fukuda, the newly designated incoming Prime Minister of Japan will inherit a foreign policy agenda crowded with emerging crises, long-unresolved crises, one minor problem, and an irrelevant issue.
Guess which two things will dominate his premiership.
If you guessed that the irrelevant issue is the one that’s been pushed to the fore in the public eye and that the minor problem is the one about which all of pre-election jawing is being done, you, dear reader, are cynical. You’re right, of course, and an astute political observer, but cynical nonetheless. That’s good, though, because Japanese politics are a lot of fun if you’re cynical – and maddening and heartbreaking if you’re not and you truly care about Japan.
As I see it (and I’m not alone in this), there are two specific, unresolved defense problems in the US-Japan relationship at the moment. The first is that the anti-terrorism special measures law, which authorizes the Maritime Self-Defense Forces’ running of a gas station (not my words) in the Indian Ocean for the refueling of American refueling ships that then refuel American warships and airplanes involved in the “War on Terror” in Afghanistan, is set to expire on November 1st. That means either a new law has to be passed or the current law has to be renewed by that date or the MSDF ships currently in the area will either be there illegally or have to be ordered to return to Japan.
While the Diet is currently in session, the opposition parties, led by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), have said that the current law violates Japan’s constitutional ban on involvement in the use of force for anything other than self defense and that they will fight its renewal. In other words, there’s no way the LDP is going to be able to fight and win a contentious legislative battle before November 1st.
The second problem is that Japan’s current interpretation of Article 9, the war-renouncing clause of its US-penned constitution (which the US came to regret as early as 1950, when it wanted Japan to get involved in the Korean War directly) does not consider a North Korean nuclear missile flying over Japan on its way to the US an act of hostility against Japan. For Japan to use its new American-made missile defense system, Aegis-equipped destroyers, and the other capabilities of the world’s fourth-best-funded military. . . oops, I mean Self-Defense Force. . . to shoot down such a missile would be an act of collective defense, or using force on behalf of an ally. Likewise, current constitutional interpretations would count as collective defense the MSDF coming to the aid of an American ship under attack.
The US-Japan security alliance has never been a simple you-get-my-back-I’ll-get-yours kind of arrangement. Basically, in return for security guarantees from the US, Japan agrees to grant the US military use of prime real estate at points throughout the archipelago, including the stationing of 40,000 troops (mostly Sailors and Marines), and foots half the bill. Unofficially, Japan also contributes generously to the funding of American (mis)adventures around the world and is an uncritical ally to an extent that makes Canada and the UK seem almost hostile by comparison.
Yet what Japan can or will actually do in the event of North Korean aggression or a flare-up in the Straits of Taiwan is unclear. Under current law, when the SDF detects a nuclear-tipped gift from Mr. Kim lifting off on the first leg of its journey to America, commanders are to report it, at which point lawmakers have to get together, decide what to do, pass a law allowing it, and then give instructions to the Ministry of Defense, which will instruct commanders, who will then, presumably, tell their troops to shoot the missile down, a process that will be scrutinized by a civilian oversight commission.
I’m not kidding.
Now, I am not a military expert by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t know exactly what a Warrant Officer is, the range of an F-15, or why the MSDF uses vaguely homoerotic recruiting ads, nor do I know the rate of acceleration or airspeed of a Taepodong-2 (which, by the way, is pronounced tay-po-dong. Sorry to ruin that joke.) What I am fairly certain of, though, is that any missile, even on a bad day, travels faster than the speed of legislation.
So, if the first problem goes unresolved, the US will have to reposition some refueling ships, lose out on some free gas, and not have Japan playing a direct role in the Middle East. If the second problem remains unresolved, the consequences could be far more dire and the US will not have Japan playing a direct role in East Asia.
Guess which problem is causing consternation in the State Department at the moment.
Wow, you’re good. It’s not that the US is ignoring the latter, collective defense problem, but that neither the US nor Japan seems to be in a hurry to sort it out. Prime Minister Abe, who resigned almost two weeks ago, did put constitutional reform at the top of his wish list, but, amazingly, it was trumped in the mind of the public by massive public debt, an underfunded, scandal-ridden Social Insurance Agency, a sluggish economy, and decreasing job and social security. The oddity is that the US is bending over backwards to try to make it easier for the LDP to get a renewal of the anti-terrorism special measures law passed, even going so far as to lobby the UN Security Council to include a line in a resolution pointing out “the increased violent and terrorist activities by the Taliban, Al Qaeda, illegally armed groups and those involved in the narcotics trade” that thanked NATO and nations contributing to ISAF for their support, including Japan, not a member of either group, for its efforts “including its maritime interdiction component.”
Yeah, its going to pass for sure now! (Forgive my sarcasm.)
So that’s the minor problem – passing a law allowing the MSDF to continue refueling American ships in the Indian Ocean.
The irrelevant issue? In the 1970s and ’80s, North Korean spies slipped all the way across the Sea of Japan to Sado Island and mainland Niigata, on the West coast of Japan, and abducted as many as 17 people, whom they held prisoner and forced to teach Japanese to North Korean spies. Some of those people have returned to Japan since the DPRK admitted the kidnapppings in 2002 (one married American defector Charles Jenkins), some have been confirmed dead, and others are still missing. Japan insists that the unaccounted-for people were taken by North Korea and may be alive. North Korea insists that it either did not take them, in some cases, or that they are dead, in others. This issue was the one that made Prime Minister Abe’s career while he was Chief Cabinet Secretary under Koizumi, so Japan has been just as intransigent on the issue as North Korea, refusing to supply any aid to the North and barring all North Korean ships from its ports and banning all exports of anything even remotely useful in the building of nuclear or military capability to North Korea.
The US, China, Russia, and South Korea are ready to go ahead on a deal with North Korea struck in the Six-Party Talks. Japan is holding up the show over a maximum of eight people, who might actually be dead. This has left the US in the awkward position of trying to get its best good buddy back on the bandwagon. George Bush has visited the family of the most famous still-missing woman to express his support on behalf of the American people. The US is starting to get fed up with the delays, but that’s strictly sotto voce.
You’d think the nuclear issue might take precedence over eight long-missing people? So would I. That’s why we’re not running foreign policy for the LDP.
So, what does all this have to do with Sunday’s election of a new LDP president? Well, the president of the LDP is the Prime Minister of Japan and the two men running for the job have rather substantially different approaches to foreign policy, among other things.
Taro Aso, Foreign Minister under Prime Ministers Koizumi and Abe, is a hawkish fellow, whose answer to every travail facing Japan abroad is pressure. Pressure on North Korea is a favorite theme, for example. Aso would insist on keeping up the embargo against North Korea, thus driving a wedge between Japan, its neighbors, and its closest ally. (A more pragmatic US administration could point to the US embargo against Cuba as an example of how effective such strategies are in achieving one’s ends, but that’s unlikely to happen.) Aso might try to ram a renewal of the special measures law through the Diet, which would be politically disastrous for his party and probably not work. (Incongruously, though, as Foreign Minister, Aso proposed ceding half of the disputed Northern Territories, the islands to the North of Hokkaido, to Russia as way of starting negotiations on the issue.)
Yasuo Fukuda, who was Japan’s longest-serving Chief Cabinet Secretary under Prime Minister Koizumi, is a compromiser. He has said he’d open talks with North Korea to work towards normalization. He has also said he’ll pass a renewal of the special measures law, but is more likely to be able to work with the DPJ and has hinted at calling a general election after the spring’s ordinary Diet session. This is a clever strategy. The LDP has a commanding majority in the more powerful Lower House of the Diet now. In any election, it will lose seats. Fukuda could offer compromise after compromise, knowing the DPJ will not give the LDP what it wants, then tar the opposition as uncompromising, obstructionist, and divisive just before calling a general election.
This same willingness to compromise could also make Fukuda more effective at getting some of the changes in the direction of collective defense that the LDP (funded until 1972 by the CIA and always more pro-America than the country as a whole) wants.
So now, a little background. There was a samurai, named Okubo, who supported the Meiji Emperor in the civil war that led to the Meiji Restoration and the founding of modern Japan in 1868. Okubo went on to become a powerful politician when Japan was effectively run by an oligarchy under the Meiji Emperor. His granddaughter married Shigeru Yoshida, who was a founding member of the LDP in the 1950s and was a powerful Prime Minister. Yoshida’s daughter married Takakichi Aso, who owned a cement factory in Kyushu that used mostly Korean slave labor prior to and during World War II. Takakichi Aso’s daughter is now married to the son of Prince Mikasa, the younger brother of the current Emperor, Akihito (who will be known the Heisei Emperor, when he’s dead. He is the son of the Showa Emperor, better known abroad as Hirohito.) Takakichi Aso also had a son, who took over his cement business and represented Japan in shooting in the 1976 Montreal Olympics. That son is Taro Aso, who is a well-known otaku (which loosely translates to “obsessive geek” and literally translates to “thee”), especially fond of a manga, or comic book, known as Rozen Maiden. Prior to an appearance with Fukuda, Aso was captured on camera spending nearly five minutes explaining manga heroes to his obviously uninterested opponent.
While Aso has done well with the public for being clear and easy to understand, as well as being far more charismatic than his opponent, he is loathed by more than love him, especially within the LDP. Thus, while he has the vocal support of otaku, he is doomed.
On Christmas Eve 1976, Takeo Fukuda was elected Prime Minister of Japan. He served until December 7, 1978. During his administration, he introduced party primaries in an attempt to break the power of factions within the LDP. Ironically, he lost in the first LDP primary. Takeo Fukuda had a secretary named Junichiro Koizumi, himself the son of a politician, who went on to become Japan’s longest serving Prime Minister from April 2001 to September 2006. As Prime Minister, Koizumi had Japan’s longest-serving Chief Cabinet Secretary, Takeo Fukuda’s son, Yasuo Fukuda, who, interestingly, is 71, the same age his father was when he became Prime Minister.
While widely regarded as a sincere and kind man, Fukuda has freely admitted his own lack of charisma. He comes across as a nice, grandfatherly character rather than the kind of powerful politician who could run the world’s second-largest economy. He’s seen as a uniter, though, which the LDP needs if it’s going to get anything done with a powerful opposition in control of the Upper House of the Diet, and, perhaps just as importantly, he is not Taro Aso, which probably helped him gain the support of eight of the nine LDP factions – all of them save Aso’s. Among those factions is the powerful Mori-Machimura conglomerate, which, in many ways, runs the party that runs Japan. Crucially, the Mori-Machimura faction has put forth the last three Prime Ministers: Yoshiro Mori himself, who served a mere nine months as caretaker and saw his approval ratings drop to single digits (Eat your heart out, George Bush!); Junichiro Koizumi, who remains popular and had a falling out with Fukuda, but likes Aso even less; and Shinzo Abe, who was hand-picked by Koizumi, but seemed unable to get anything done and is now in the hospital being treated for stress-related mental and physical problems.
Now that you’ve made it this far, the hard work is done. You can sit back and enjoy the election updates, although I’ll issue a spoiler alert that will steal some of the drama you might normally associate with elections:
Fukuda’s going to win.
PJM Tokyo, Sunday 23 Sep 2007, 00:03pm PDT:
Candidates Aso and Fukuda have both now voted. Former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi also voted.
The prefectural vote has also been announced. Mr. Fukuda won the vote by a count of 76 to Mr. Aso’s 65 (Fukuda won 54% of the prefectural vote).
The members of the LDP are now voting one by one.
PJM Tokyo, Sunday 23 Sep 2007, 00:21pm PDT:
The voting concluded, and seven counters were given 20 minutes to tally the votes.
Yasuo Fukuda is the new president of the LDP. Consequently, on Tuesday he will be named prime minister of Japan.
In LDP balloting, which includes all prefectural and Diet member votes, Fukuda received 330 votes to Taro Aso’s 197.
Mr. Fukuda got a little choked up while delivering his acceptance speech.
PJM Tokyo, Sunday 23 Sep 2007, 00:44pm PDT:
Well, it’s official. Just after 3pm the vote totals were announced. Yasuo Fukuda was declared the victor, he said his first words as president of the LDP, and received his first party presidential bonsai, in which, in character, the defeated Taro Aso looked more enthusiastic than the victorious Fukuda.
All in all, LDP intra-party elections are lacking in public spectacle–the only details that give the proceedings much color are that Fukuda, as he is wont to do, got a bit choked up as he spoke and some Diet members threw decorum to the wind, broke out their cellphones, and joined the press in snapping photos as the new
president of the LDP took the stage. In a couple days he’ll be officially named prime minister of Japan.
NHK, the state-run national broadcaster, displayed a great photo near the end of its coverage-a relatively young Yasuo Fukuda flanked by and equally youthful Yoshiro Mori and a positively boyish Junichiro Koizumi.
Koizumi, of course, went on to become Japan’s longest-serving and, possibly, most popular prime minister. Mori preceded him as Japan’s least popular prime minister but made both Koizumi and Fukuda.
All three men have fallen out with each other over the years-Koizumi pushed Fukuda out of office as chief cabinet secretary and torpedoed his run for party president last year before it even got started.
All three men came together, though, united in one cause: making sure Taro Aso did not get control of the LDP. Fukuda won.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
And NHK cuts to sumo.
Garrett DeOrio runs Trans-Pacific Radio, a podcast channel based in Tokyo which provides regular review and analysis of Japanese and East Asian news and politics.